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British actor Nicol Williamson dies at age 75

- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

AMSTERDAM (AP) - Nicol Williamson, the British actor best known for his role as the wizard Merlin in the 1981 film "Excalibur," has died of esophageal cancer, his son said Wednesday. He was 75.

His son Luke said the actor died Dec. 16 in Amsterdam, where he had lived for more than two decades.

Williamson had dozens of film credits to his name but won more plaudits for his stage acting. Playwright John Osborne once described him as "the greatest actor since Marlon Brando."

He was nominated for a Tony Award in 1966 for his role in Osborne's "Inadmissible Evidence" and again in 1974 for Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya." He also was nominated three times for acting honors at the British Academy Film Awards, Britain's equivalent of the Oscars.

In films, he was an acclaimed wizard Merlin in John Boorman's "Excalibur" and also played Little John to Sean Connery's Robin Hood and Audrey Hepburn's Lady Marian in the 1976 movie "Robin and Marian."

Luke Williamson described his father as multi-talented and multi-faceted.

"He could do it all," Williamson said in a telephone interview. "He could sing, he wrote poetry, he wrote prose, he wrote a book ... He was working on a CD in the year leading up to his illness, and he finished it while he was going through chemotherapy."

Nicol Williamson won rave reviews for his theater work but never warmed to the acting scene, which Luke described as self-congratulatory and insincere.

"Dad didn't play that game," he said. "One of the tremendous things about Nicol was that he was always straight up with you."

The Dutch capital appealed to Nicol in part because the city was "a very easy place to live" while being close to Britain and the rest of Europe. As he left the theater behind, he gravitated more toward musical projects, including the CD, which Luke said would eventually be released on his father's website.

Luke Williamson said his father was also survived by his wife, Jill Townsend. Williamson's death was first confirmed by his son Wednesday on his father's website.

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Associated Press writer Raphael Satter in London contributed to this story.

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